In 2018, Hollywood decided it had been long enough since Ridley Scott’s grittier, somewhat more grounded take on the legend of Robin Hood, and this generation needed their own version of the story. This version being a slicker, cooler take on the character with an upgrade to the story with an almost superhero movie vibe to it. Considering the reviews (15% on Rotten Tomatoes, 5.3/10 on IMDB, and 32/100 on Metacritic), it’s clear that I’m not the only one who hated this version.
This time around Robin of Loxley (just Rob in this one, because it’s shorter and cooler I guess?) is played by Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) and Rocketman (2019) star Taron Egerton. Rob is a rich Lord who is drafted to fight in the Crusades and forced to leave the love of his life, Marian (Eve Hewson), behind and go to war in Arabia, where he first encounters Jamie Foxx’s John (not Little John in this one, just John). Rob sees his fellow Crusaders executing the Arabian prisoners of war, including John’s young son, and he steps up to save and free John.
Because he is a Lord, Rob isn’t executed for treason, but is sent back home to Nottingham instead. Upon returning home, Rob finds out that the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) declared him dead in order to seize his land and money to fund the war on behalf of the corrupt church. Even worse, he finds out Marian has moved on from his supposed death and found another love, Will (Jamie Dornan of Fifty Shades of Grey fame).
After witnessing the corruption of the political leaders and the church, Rob decides to live a double life. In the public eye he remains Lord Robin of Loxley, a staunch supporter of the Sheriff and the church. With training from John, he becomes The Hood, stealing the war funding gold and inspiring a revolution.
Every single thing about this movie feels like a blatant rip-off of other successful movies, genres, or styles. The foundation of the story feels like a carbon copy Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (Rob’s life mirrors Bruce Wayne’s almost exactly, and Dornan’s character’s arc is exactly that of Two-Face’s). Instead of the gritty tone of that trilogy, however, this goes for a more YA oriented tone that feels straight out of The Hunger Games or, let’s face it, any other YA movie since they’re all the same damn thing. We even get a wooden, unemotional love triangle like every single YA movie ever made. Then director Otto Bathurst (this is his first feature film, though he has many TV directing credits) tops that all off by attempting to mimic the action style that Guy Ritchie implemented in the Sherlock Holmes movies and more recently in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017), another re-imagining of a legend that failed, in part, by trying to modernize the tale and make it feel cool.
I loved the casting of Taron Egerton as Robin when it was first announced and, despite how much I disliked this movie, I still think he was a good choice for the main role. It’s clear from the ending that the people behind this movie had hopes of turning this into a franchise, and Egerton is a great actor to build around. He oozes confidence and charisma which gives him a magnetic presence on screen and he has the acting chops to handle pretty much anything thrown his way (that range is not tested by this shallow, poorly written rendition of Robin Hood). On top of that, he has the physical ability to handle all of the necessary action scenes. Basically, he has everything they could want to carry a Robin Hood franchise. He did a good job in the role, unfortunately the writing, directing, and editing let him down and I don’t see any chance of this getting a sequel, let alone spawning a franchise.
Mendelsohn, in particular, was disappointing and it has nothing to do with his performance. He is an amazing actor, and he has gained a reputation for playing a great villain. What typically makes him a great villain is his ability to play around in the grey area. His villains are the antagonists, but they aren’t necessarily evil people. They simply have a different viewpoint or motivations than the hero. That’s not the case in Robin Hood. This version of the Sheriff of Nottingham is a vile, sadistic, villain with absolutely no depth. Instead of exploring the grey areas that a villain might live in, Mendelsohn is reduced to sneering and spitting out awful, cliche bad guy lines. It’s a poorly written role that even his immense ability can’t save.
I haven’t seen Eve Hewson in anything prior to this, so I can’t speak to her talent in anything other than this, but I think she was fine, despite having an awful character to play. In my opinion, one of the biggest opportunities of a more modern take on the legend was an update to her character, Marian. Throughout the different takes on the legend, she has remained largely unchanged. She is always relegated to being no more than a love interest and a damsel in distress. This version does attempt to bring a bit of depth to the character by making her the inspiration for Rob to lead the oppressed in a revolution, and I do applaud them for the attempt, but she’s still little more than a love interest in the shitty love triangle between her, Rob, and Sir Fifty Shades. It’s a wasted opportunity and a shame that she couldn’t have become a strong female character more involved in Rob’s and John’s heroics.
Honestly, I feel bad for all the actors. The talent is impressive across the board, but they’re all stuck playing under-developed characters that completely waste their talents. I know Egerton, Foxx, Mendelsohn, and Dornan are all good actors, and I can’t blame them for being intrigued by the idea of a sleek, modernized telling of the Robin Hood tale. They are all do their best, but they are unable to elevate this awful movie, and their talent is completely wasted. I don’t blame any of them one bit for this mess. It’s probably best if we all just forget they were in this and move on.
Unfortunately, the action is hit and miss. Some of the scenes were really entertaining; a little silly and over the top, but entertaining still. The war scene in Arabia was chaotic and exciting and some of the heist scenes involved chase scenes that were an absolute blast. The close quarters combat scenes didn’t work so well, though, especially with the poor attempts to replicate Guy Ritchie’s. Like Ritchie, Bathurst attempts to manipulate the speed of the scenes, interspersing slow motion and sped up chaos. When Ritchie does this, it feels like a chaotic dance and it’s visually exciting. Perhaps it’s the choreography and staging of the action, or maybe Brathurst doesn’t have the eye for action that Ritchie does. Either way, these scenes don’t have the kinetic feeling that Ritchie achieves.
Overall, I can understand what this version of the legend was trying to achieve, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is nearly a complete failure that wastes the incredible talent involved. Aside from a few fun action set pieces, there’s really no reason for me to recommend this to anybody. My curiosity got the best of me and made me give this a shot despite my instincts telling me to stay away. Don’t let that happen to you. Avoid this awful mess.